All parents hope to raise empathetic and altruistic kids, but this can feel more difficult during the teenage years as kids begin to assert their independence. Research has shown that volunteer work and activism is good for our physical and mental health. This work can be particularly impactful for teens as they struggle to find their identity. As a parent, encouraging teens to get involved with their community through volunteer work will help them build confidence and purpose, so here are four ways to help them get started.
Follow their passions
The first step to building resilience through volunteer work and activism is identifying what positive changes your teen would like to see in their community. Perhaps they’re concerned about climate change, or access to fresh food, or conserving local bee populations. Whatever it is, support their interests by leaning into causes they are already passionate about.
It’s common for teenagers to feel frustrated or upset about injustices they see around them, but translating these emotions into tangible action can be more difficult. Pay attention to issues your child is vocal about and suggest ways in which they can make a difference. For example, if your child is upset about the way a school book depicts a group of characters, suggest that they leave an online review illustrating their frustrations. If they are tired of seeing litter around their community, suggest a Saturday morning walk to collect trash.
Address reasons for hesitancy
If your child isn’t interested in volunteering or feels too shy to participate, encourage them to think outside the box. Asking them what they think their favorite role model would do to address the issue or what they think the biggest barrier preventing action on a cause is can broaden horizons and prompt creative solutions.
Celebrate change, big and small
Between the pandemic, climate change, and racial injustices, teens today often feel powerless. Encourage them to be proud of all actions, big and small, which make a difference in the world around them. Even if their initiatives are unsuccessful (like trying to change a sexist dress code policy), remind them that their actions have power and that their efforts will inspire other students to stand up for clothing autonomy.
We all crave purpose in this world, and for teenagers to figure out who they are and what they want, activism and volunteer work can help them root out what really matters to them in their personal and professional futures. When in doubt, simply asking, “What can I do to help you achieve this goal” is a great place to start.